Few things elicit goose bumps like Margaret Hamilton’s puppy-threatening cackle in the original Wizard of Oz. Radioactive skin, a menacing manicure and legions of flying monkeys dressed as bellhops — sci-fi monsters from distant planets are no match for the OG Wicked Witch of the West.
But have you ever wondered why the green queen is green, or how Glinda the Good is so darn perky in the morning?
Wicked, the Broadway musical now playing at the Hult Center through Aug. 11, aims at giving agency to the witches of Oz before Dorothy started dropping houses on people. With a massive set, and an even bigger musical score by Stephen Schwartz, you’ll hardly notice some pesky narrative inconsistencies.
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, and with a book by Winnie Holzman, the story follows the collegiate days of the witches of Oz. Elphaba (Mariand Torres), the misunderstood green girl in glasses, is forced to share a room and a boyfriend (Curt Hansen) with Galinda, later Glinda (Erin Mackey), the hair-tossing ambitious blonde.
Torres and Mackey are bewitching as the unlikely pair.
Big, bold musical numbers give the actresses a chance to show off their otherworldly vocal range. Mackey is especially good in “Popular,” kicking and flexing around the stage; she is as goofy as she is poised.
Torres literally shines through impossibly iridescent lighting during the number “Defying Gravity.” An audible gasp was heard from the little girl next to me as Torres was raised high into the air, reaching notes no mere mortal should attempt in the shower. Goosebumps prickle the hair on the skin, but not for the sake of terror.
Directed by Joe Mantello, Wicked truly is all about the spectacle. A giant mechanical smoking dragon looms high above the audience. Winding clock gears turn their way through scene after scene. Seamless choreography blends in and out of quick changing sets like an optical illusion.
Winged monkeys in wiry mohawks spin through the air on invisible wires. The song “One Short Day” features a neon Emerald City with giant bobble heads — an ensemble of futuristic Whoville characters on their way to a solar eclipse party, prancing and twirling around the stage. Glinda floats around in the most magnificent multi-tiered ball gown.
More layered than Glinda’s blueberry frosted cupcake dress, Wicked explores everything from friendship and love to scapegoat politics and prejudice. Highly moralistic but never preachy, seemingly everything grows green in Oz — that is, until the plot line catches up with Dorothy.
Wicked is a prequel as much as it is a retelling. The second act bleeds into and out of the original narrative of the Wizard of Oz. Backstories for Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Wizard (Jason Graae) don’t quite line up with the intended truth behind the untold story of Oz. Explanations and synchronicities are slighted in favor of big Broadway lights.
Just as Mackey grins and bears it through the celebratory “Thank Goodness,” I too tried to drown out the why and how of it all. By the time the purple fog rolls in through “No Good Deed,” Torres’ soul-searing anguish will bury any lingering doubt for good.
Despite the confusifying moments, this production of Wicked lives up to and over the rainbow of hype: a true testament to what Broadway can create. And if you’re lucky enough to win lottery tickets for your tweenage girls, you’ll be able to relive those magical moments of denial over and over while they horribly belt out “Defying Gravity” every day for the next six months.”
Wicked the musical is playing at the Hult Center through Aug. 11; times and tickets at hultcenter.org.